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February 17, 2019

Jubilee Party idea whose time has gone

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto during the launch of the Jubilee Party at Safaricom Stadium in Nairobi on Septermber 10, 2016. Photo/Jack Owuor
President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto during the launch of the Jubilee Party at Safaricom Stadium in Nairobi on Septermber 10, 2016. Photo/Jack Owuor


Here is a story which may help you to appreciate why experienced politicians who do not have a lock on their party’s nomination process, are at present running away from the big national parties. And why they now seek nominations for the August elections on the smaller, mostly regional, parties:

A friend of mine still active in politics, told me how in a previous election cycle, on the night before the nomination exercise for the political party which held sway over his home region, he went to bed very late. This was because he had meetings late into the night with his polling agents.

Thus he rose at about 9.00AM the next morning, and promptly called a friendly regional newspaper correspondent to ask if arrangements could be made for a photographer to arrive at the polling station nearest to his home, so that the casting of his vote could be recorded for posterity. The journalist asked him, “Is your TV on?” He answered that it was not and asked why that would matter. “Just turn your TV on” said the journalist, and specified which station he should turn to.

Mheshimiwa did this, and was amazed to find his top rival holding a press conference and congratulating my friend for “standing down”. 

And, most notable, this rival was waving about his nomination certificate so as to leave no doubt that he had already been formally nominated. As my friend explained, "He must have been given that nomination certificate the day before, for him to have it so early in the morning."

Luckily those were the days when party hopping was still a time-honoured practice in Kenya. My friend was later able to get the ticket of some obscure tiny party – what the media in Kenya likes to label as a “briefcase party”.

And so he was able to run for parliament and win, against this opponent who had been able to arrange to receive the ticket of the dominant party in that region, long before any votes had been cast to determine who would be the party's nominee for that constituency. 

I have a few more equally colourful and amazing stories of party nomination exercises over the years. But they all make the same point: that there has never been a political party in Kenya, which could be relied on to conduct a transparent, free and fair nomination poll, in each and every constituency in which it planned to field a candidate. And that in many elections past, political salvation often lay in having a pre-purchased nomination certificate from one of the lesser political parties hidden in your coat pocket, even as you struggled to win the nomination for the party which was most popular in your political backyard.

Nowadays of course, there is no more room for party-hopping. A recently passed law has made sure of that. And so I would ask: with this rich history of political shenanigans over so many years, why would anyone who has even a minimal understanding of Kenyan politics, wait to be rigged out in the primary elections of a big party led by a key presidential candidate?

For any candidate who is confident that the grassroots will support him or her, it is obviously much better to secure the nomination of some insignificant political party, and then campaign vigorously over the next six months or so.

Those who gathered at Kasarani a few months ago to formally launch the Jubilee Party – intended as a monolithic political party which would sweep all in its path – may have meant well.

But they did not really plan well. And now their party is unravelling right before their very eyes.

Now here is the really amazing thing: Uhuru will probably get more votes as a result of this unravelling of his JP, than he would if the JP had remained a giant monolith. The supporters of all those leading Central Kenya politicians running to smaller parties, will still give Uhuru their presidential votes. And there will now be many more of these, than would have been the case if Uhuru had been successful in getting all of his core supporters into one giant party.



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